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The Business of Healing Pets: Leadership Begins with the Leader

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The Business of Healing Pets: Leadership Begins with the Leader

The Business of Healing Pets, Trupanion’s blog series written by Stith Keiser of Blue Heron Consulting, takes a deep dive into the business side of animal medicine. Look for a new installment each month featuring topics such as business best practices, effective leadership, strategic hiring, and more.

Ask almost anyone for a definition of leadership and you’re likely to get a range of answers matched in volume and variance only by the responses posted to a case on VIN (not that that’s a bad thing!). For the sake of this series, let’s quickly examine a few definitions.

“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” – Peter Drucker

One of my business partners spent 10 years as a captain in the Marine Corps. He’ll be the first to tell you that a new captain may have 200 followers, but they’re only following him out of obligation. By default, his troops have to follow orders. Is the captain really a leader? Commander, yes—leader, no.

“Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.” – John Maxwell

The seasoned tech who bullies trainees has influence, but does that make her a leader? A practice manager has the power and influence to fire team members, but does this make her a leader? In my mind, Maxwell’s definition lacks the source of influence.

So, what is leadership?

For today, I propose a definition from Forbes Magazine. 

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”

If we can agree that this embodies at least one acceptable definition of leadership, then let’s examine how that definition aligns with common leadership structures in our hospital.

I was recently speaking at a veterinary conference and found myself at a table with a handful of 2016 veterinary school graduates. We discussed what they enjoyed most about practice as well as what they found most challenging. Across the board, their top complaint was the lack of leadership from their bosses and managers. This lack of leadership manifested itself in almost every aspect of the hospital. Most hospitals I’ve had the opportunity to visit have a traditional, hierarchical leadership model with the DVM owner at the top, usually with good intentions, but with no idea how to be a leader and trying to be everything to everybody. The result? Scenarios like the ones described by those 2016 associate veterinarians.

Leadership starts with leaders. Everyone, regardless of your title, education, position in the hospital, or salary, has the opportunity to be a leader. You can be a leader to your entire hospital team or one department, in the exam room or the surgery suite, or when communicating with clients. Every veterinary team member has the opportunity to be a leader.

Why do we lead?

According to How to Be a Good Boss: Start by Understanding Why You Want to Lead, an article from Kellogg University, all leadership styles stem from one of two primary motivators:

  1. Dominance Motivated
  2. Prestige Motivated

From kids on the playground to military generals to our staff members, there’s an innate understanding of the two ways to hold on to power: you either demand support or you’re liked and freely offered loyalty. The table above presents a little more about each.

As you’re reviewing, keep in mind that one strategy is not necessarily bad and the other good. Both have their place and both can work in different environments. In fact, research from Kellogg shows that the best leaders have the ability to nimbly switch between the two styles based on the situation at hand. The key is to identify which you lean towards so that you can be aware of the benefits and pitfalls associated with it.

Next month: We’ll delve deeper into leadership styles and discuss how to grow as leaders.

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Meet Stith

Stith Keiser is the Chief Executive Officer for Blue Heron Consulting, a group specializing in veterinary practice management coaching. In addition to consulting, Stith is a managing partner at a handful of veterinary practices and collaborates on the advancement of professional development curriculums at several veterinary schools as an adjunct faculty member. In his free time, Stith enjoys spending time with his wife, family, friends, and two dogs, a Red Heeler and black Lab, in the outdoors.

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